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Workshop 1.8

Knowledge & innovation brokers: lubricating knowledge development & innovation in networks


Eelke Wielinga, LINK Consult, The Netherlands
Laurens Klerkx, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
Michael Kuegler, European Union

If you have any questions regarding this workshop, please turn directly to the convenors by sending an email.


Relevant knowledge for stakeholders in farming systems is emerging from interaction, rather than streaming from research to users. Intermediary actors, bringing stakeholders together and lubricating the mutual learning process, appear to be crucial. Who are performing this role? What do they do? What is the position of researchers in such processes? In this workshop we look for experiences and insights.


The classical distinction between knowledge generation, knowledge dissemination and utilization does not apply anymore to the reality of farming systems (if it ever did). Instead, relevant knowledge emerges from interaction in networks between stakeholders. Actors, who have been variously been called knowledge brokers, innovation brokers, intermediaries and free actors,  stimulating the mutual learning process, are crucial. This is also being recognized in recent thinking, for example, about new roles of agricultural advisors by the Global Forum on Rural Advisory Services, and ideas on ‘European Innovation Partnerships’. In this constellation researchers and advisors still play a pivotal role, but different from what usually was assumed before. Stimulating and guiding the process of learning with stakeholders calls for repositioning the researcher and advisors, while also other players can do part of the job. This is why the issue of actors acting as brokers and facilitators became important, as intermediaries lubricating the process. Another term in use is the ‘Free Actors’, referring to those intermediate actors who do whatever is needed to connect the stakeholders and generate energy in the network. They do so with or without a mandate. If you watch successful networks, you can always identify such actors. The switch of at least one person from following the task description to acting autonomously and playing creatively with the given structure appears to be indispensable for a creative and innovative process.

We call for papers on experiences with knowledge brokers or whatever intermediate actors in stimulating innovation are being called. It is interesting too to hear stories from practitioners, not being in the position of a researcher. Lead questions are:
> What strategies can intermediaries/brokers follow for being effective? What makes them effective? When are they effective?
> How can students and professionals be trained for this role? What does it imply for agricultural advisors?
> Is it possible to make a task description for an intermediary/broker, while learning processes for innovation are so full of uncertainties?
> How can such intermediary actors be managed: how much space do they need, and what can a manager do if they go off track?
> How can this intermediary task be evaluated, while it is impossible to predict what it will include, and the actual contribution is often hard to distinguish?

Workshop process

Oral presentations of the papers (10 minutes each), are followed by round table discussions, focussing on the key questions as listed above. What answers can be found?  What dilemmas call for more attention and research?


Harvest workshop 1.8.pdf

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